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Breaking the Golden Rule – Is It Worth It?



Photo by @SarahWV

Oh No She Didn’t!

I recently found out that an agent in my marketplace was badmouthing me. Of course, I was extremely
disappointed. She happens to be very active in my farm and we often compete for the same listings, so it is inevitable that her name comes up in conversations with clients and potential clients, and I guess vice versa. Yes, I’m hurt. I actually held her in high esteem and would have recommended her in a heartbeat if an occasion arose that I had to refer business out of my company. And I even told clients that. We volunteered at the REALTOR Association together and I thought we held each other in mutual regard. This incident, which has confirmed certain whispered things that I heard in the past but chose to ignore, leaves me bitter, too. I guess writing about it here is my way of getting it off my chest without going through the agony of filing an ethics complaint.

You Can’t Pretend the Competition Doesn’t Exist

When I schedule a listing appointment and feel that I will be in competition with another agent, I always ask the seller what other agents she or he is interviewing in order to tailor my listing presentation to include items likely to position me as the obvious choice for the seller. For instance, if I am up against a newbie, I may spend a little more time illustrating how my experience has benefited other clients or, if the other agent works for a certain companies, I may concentrate on the global reach of my marketing plan and my history of working for different kinds of real estate companies and my subsequent business choices. My listing presentation repertoire is pretty large and I do not usually use all of tools in my arsenal at every appointment. So, getting this bit of information from the seller before going in helps me to be sure I don’t skip something that will be on the seller’s mind, because I know that they don’t always ask all the questions that they are thinking.

Inquiring about who they are interviewing also helps put the seller at ease, I believe, because I am letting them know that it is OK for them to be talking to other agents. This eliminates the need for them to lie or be sneaky about issues related to their other appointments, etc, and, if I don’t get the listing (yeah, it happens on occasion) the communication expectation is there and I am able to get some great feedback on why I lost.

So, asking who I am up against works for me. But…BUT…the one thing I never ever do with this information is bash the other agent. “Oh yeah, So and So does this” or “He doesn’t do that” or “I am much better than her because….” is not a dialogue I enter in to. My presentations are always about my seller, my experience and what I have to offer them that is unique. If I need to highlight certain aspects of my program to help position me as the obvious choice, that is one thing. But to openly engage in an “I’m better than she is” conversation will not ever happen.

How DO You Respond?

If the seller asks me if I know an agent or if an agent is any good (because they DO ask sometimes), my answer is always complimentary or neutral: “Yes, I know him and have worked with him. I respect her work ethic” or “I think I have heard the name but I don’t always have the opportunity to meet all of the agents in our 1200 member area”. If I have any negative thoughts about someone, I won’t discuss it because 1) it’s usually unethical (see Article 15), and 2) it’s tacky and dangerous to one’s reputation. To stoop to the level of saying derogatory things about the competition, especially if it is not based on fact, makes me look much worse than the offending statements would make the other agent.

We aren’t, after all, running political campaigns, are we?

Lisa sells residential real estate in the Pocono Mountains of Northeastern PA, and authors The Poconos Real Estate Blog. Being a strong believer in community participation, she currently serves as President of a 1700 home Property Owners' Association and Secretary of the Board of the local REALTOR Association for 2009. Her most challenging and fulfilling role, though, is that of Mom to two teenage girls, and her main hope for them is that they learn to appreciate the abundant joys of a life lived with a positive attitude. You can connect with Lisa on Twitter, Facebook and/or LinkedIn.

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  1. Sarah Cooper

    October 22, 2008 at 11:02 am

    I can usually find SOMETHING nice to say about the other agent, and if I love working with them I am thrilled to talk nicely about them. If you say bad things about other people, the person you were talking to just remembers you were negative, you might as well have said the bad things about yourself!

  2. Ryan Hukill

    October 22, 2008 at 11:02 am

    Great approach… taking the high road. Your graphic above says it all, and the clients you want will be aligned with that philosophy as well.

  3. Ann Cummings

    October 22, 2008 at 11:03 am

    Lisa – AWESOME post! If only those agents who do engage in that kind of bashing really thought about how it actually makes them look in the eyes of others, I wonder if they’d continue belittling others to make themselves look ‘good’. Those who tear others apart have truly very little confidence and self-worth, and see that as the only way to make themselves appear to be the better person – which is a shame.

    As you said, the Code of Ethics addresses it, as well as that good old “Golden Rule”. You wonder if they even know what that is…..

  4. Jonathan Dalton

    October 22, 2008 at 11:09 am

    You never know who you’ll see in a cross sale. Better to stay neutral … that’s just common sense, COE aside

  5. Betsy

    October 22, 2008 at 11:11 am

    My husband and I are in the early stages of house-hunting and have been very disappointed by the lack of professionalism in this area. We GET that people want our business…putting down their peers is the sure way to ensure that they won’t get it. GREAT piece!

  6. Dan O'Halloran

    October 22, 2008 at 11:23 am

    Lisa- very well put. I completely agree with you on asking who else they are interviewing and making sure to not go down the negative road. There really is no need for that and if you’re a good agent, your presentation will speak for itself.

  7. Jay Thompson

    October 22, 2008 at 11:25 am

    Karma is a bitch. Those that play silly games bashing others will eventually get their just dues. The odds are overwhelming that if I’m asked about someone specifically, I won’t know them, (there are what, 40,000 agents in the Phoenix area). If I do know them, and they are good, then that’s the feedback I give. If I know them and they are a troll, I’ll make some neutral comment along the lines of “I’ve only worked with them a little, can’t really say much either way”.

  8. Jason Sandquist

    October 22, 2008 at 11:44 am

    Say the magic word and I will break some kneecaps.

    Take the highroad, it will come around tenfold in the end.

  9. Missy Caulk

    October 22, 2008 at 11:55 am

    So true, Lisa. If a seller who was previously listed with another agents, re-lists with me, I just let them vent. I actually see this more than competing for listings. Then I say……….”ok, feel better?” “Let’s get going it is a new day”.

    What’s the point in trashing another Realtor, because you will be sitting across from them no doubt.

    Sarah, love your photo and saying.

  10. Kathy Drewien

    October 22, 2008 at 12:49 pm

    LOVE the photo and quote! I’m always hurt to find out someone is standing on my shoulders to make themselves look taller. Doesn’t matter if I understand their diminished self-esteem or lack of confidence drives the behavior. I’m hurt. And, it’s because I would never dream of being critical of them publicly.

    When I’m being considered for a job, I’m often asked about other agents. Some I don’t know personally, some I do. When I do know the other agent, I can usually find a point of difference highlighting my expertise; but not at the expense of someone else. (I can almost always say: Google me, then Google them and tell me what you learned.)

    It just doesn’t pay to be critical of others. Besides, it’s just not nice.

  11. Steve Simon

    October 22, 2008 at 1:16 pm

    There is a difference in “bad mouthing” and complete “fabricated libel”…
    Slander the negative attack based on false statements can be brief and or unsophisticated; however libel, the negative attack based on fixed statements or images (written rather than spoken) has for me, a much deeper connotation.
    I would not tolerate it.
    There is a difference.
    Just my thoughts:)

  12. Jay Thompson

    October 22, 2008 at 1:29 pm

    I wouldn’t care if it is slander or libel (written or spoken defamation), it’s wrong. I don’t even care if it violates the Realtor Code of Ethics.

    It violates the Code of Being a Decent Human.

    And it’s wrong no matter no matter how it’s labeled — whether it’s in writing, spoken or sent in smoke signals.

  13. Jayson

    October 22, 2008 at 2:16 pm

    I agree – it’s always better to take the highroad (or the right road). Name calling and bad talking just looks tacky and isn’t right in any profession or situation. Nice post

  14. Kris Berg

    October 22, 2008 at 2:19 pm


    It has sadly happened to me as well. This is a very competitive business, and I continue to find it surprising that there are those who think it is OK to behave badly. On the bright side, I have actually come out on the winning side of a competitive listing situation because the other agent was classlessly trashing me, and the client wasn’t impressed.

  15. Nicole Boynton

    October 22, 2008 at 3:24 pm

    Lisa – Your story reads like a novel right out of the REALTOR Soap Opera Magazine. It sucks and it makes me mad but regretfully our business is filled with unsavory characters. Clearly she fears you and must make herself feel better by putting you down. I applaud you taking the moral high ground and believe that Karma will come back to bite others in the booty. I wish you all the best.

  16. Ginger Wilcox

    October 22, 2008 at 4:15 pm

    I can’t fathom a good reason to ever bad mouth a peer to a client. It can only come back to bite you. I like to hear Nicole’s story. I think that many clients would discount an agent who bad mouthed another. If you don’t have anything nice to say, just don’t say anything.

  17. Norm Fisher

    October 22, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    I know this wasn’t your question, but the ultimate “high road” in this situation is to graciously confront the alleged offender. Tell her what you’ve heard and give her the opportunity to confirm or deny it.

  18. Lisa Sanderson

    October 22, 2008 at 5:43 pm

    By the looks of all these comments, it seems I hit a nerve. Glad to hear that good old fashioned taste and manners are still alive and well. And Betsy is a great example of a consumer that sees right through the base tactics of some and values professionalism above all else. The client in the instance I wrote about felt the same way, and they did end up choosing me to sell their home. I guess the sweetest revenge is that I was able to sell it quickly for them and at the price they needed!

    We do need to talk about these kinds of things among ourselves, with our peers and in our offices (go ahead, forward this article to someone who needs it!) This is the kind of stuff that makes us look like a bunch of cutthroat money-grubbers to consumers. We each need to responsibly represent our industry to the public as truly professional.

  19. Jillayne Schlicke

    October 22, 2008 at 6:14 pm

    If it is true that we believe bad-mouthing to be unethical, why not set up an informal, f2f meeting with that competitor?

    Perhaps he/she has some inaccurate information about you and that would give you an opportunity to correct that info and learn more about him/her.

    Since your article title addressed the Golden Rule, it might be a good idea to look at how WE would want to be treated had the situation been reversed.

    I teach thousands of Realtors all year long and I’ve got to be honest here, you all know who the S.O.B.s are in your market. People do talk about competitors.

    If you had mentioned something about a competitor, and it got back to the competitor, wouldn’t you want him/her to contact you directly, instead of, say, turning that person in to the Assoc of Realtors on an Ethics violation?

    Sure. We all would want the courtesy of being contacted first. What an embarrasing mistake. Perhaps the person will be humble about it, perhaps not. But at least consider giving that person the chance to talk to you directly.

    When we help each other grow, it helps the entire industry get a little bit better.

    Thanks to Inman for the link here. Great site. Jillayne from raincityguide

  20. Paula Henry

    October 22, 2008 at 6:35 pm

    Kill em with kindness:) I recently received a call from a home owner who wanted me to tell him there was something his Realtor could have done to keep him from having to pay the new current taxes and the additional tax bill all of Indianapolis had to pay last year. I was not going there! Nothing good ever comes of putting down another or trashing ther reputation. Their reputation will proceed them and we don’t have to do a thing.

  21. Jaded Realtor

    October 23, 2008 at 7:06 am

    An interesting discussion except for the fact that it’s not much of a “discussion.” I think there’s another very real aspect to this, particularly in “small” markets where the numbers create a level of familiarity between agents and among buyers and sellers.

    The fact is there are some very BAD agents practicing. I recently worked with one who complained to her Designated Broker that I had a “serious character disorder.” (The facts are that I had to become very insistent over several issues that arose during the transaction to protect my client’s interest and she found that somehow “rude and insulting.” Her complaint included the observation that it was my “fiduciary duty to my client to get along with her so things would go smoothly!”)

    After pointing out that I could find no statue that made a “character disorder” a violation of real estate law I made this observation: I will never sacrifice my client’s best interest in order to “get along” with another agent. Ethics is not one-dimensional.

    Surely there is a high road, but there is also a need to confront and acknowledge incompetence. We need to remember we work for clients; not for the Realtor Association, the Code of Ethics, or the industry.

    I can assure you that I will not try to find “something nice” to say about this agent (who has burned a number of other agents in the area and more than a few clients/customers). I think it could be argued that the “high road” would include some intolerance of agents who cannot or will not perform at some basic level of competence. Yes, their reputations preceed them… but they are th elephant standing in the room that we can’t simply pretend isn’t there.

  22. Melina Tomson

    October 23, 2008 at 2:38 pm

    I have to agree with Jaded Realtor a little on this one. I agree with what you are saying in your blog and I don’t say anything bad about other people, in general BUT…I do think that you need to prep buyers and/or sellers if you know you have a less than professional agent presenting an offer or working on a listing.

    I have told clients “I have worked with this agent in the past and the transaction was bumpy. I just want you to be prepared in case that happens again.” There are bad agents that make easy transactions hard for no reason whatsoever. I think it is okay to prep clients for that.

    Like anything…it’s all in the presentation and how you say it.

  23. Jaded Realtor

    October 27, 2008 at 10:33 am

    Well, Melina… I guess we effectively “killed” this thread! It’s too bad because it could be an interesting topic… Does “taking the high road” and only saying nice things about everybody increase customer confidence in our industry?

    Of course in the ideal world “taking the high road” might be defined as filing an ethics complaint against some of these “bad” realtors for behaviors that actually harm clients.

  24. Lisa Sanderson

    October 28, 2008 at 10:33 am

    AG threads never die.

    There is a lot of good advice to be gleaned here but the most important thing to remember is, every situation is different and even the slightest change in circumstance can demand a different approach. We all just need to take responsibility for our own professionalism and determine to add to the professionalism of others as we see fit or as is appropriate.

    And of course, our clients’ best interests are priority #1!

    When in doubt, talk to your broker and/or seek counsel. In PA we have a Legal Hotline sponsored by our State REALTOR Association. Not sure if other states have that but ours is a good resource in a pinch.

  25. Karen Rice

    November 2, 2008 at 6:18 pm

    Lisa, I was dismayed when I was going against a “friend” who now works at a different office. When we worked together at the same office, I covered for her many times with the broker (i.e., when she was late or forgot an appointment, or if she neglected to fax something or get something scheduled, I covered for her.) She often complimented me and told me that I was a great agent, etc.

    Until we were interviewing, months and new offices later, for the same listing.

    She told the seller that I was inexperienced in keeping buyers, that I was only good with marketing. What the heck ?? How dare she?

    When the seller told me this, I just said that no, in fact, I have several long term and returning customers…but wow, I was flabbergasted that she did that.

  26. Jaded Realtor

    November 3, 2008 at 3:06 pm

    Ultimately, most of this falls under the heading of “gossip” and should probably be treated as such.

    Personally, I’m inclined not to dignify gossip with a defense, because I’m more interested in what the consumer thinks than what they tell me another agent is saying about me. I think sometimes consumers attribute things to agents because it makes it “easier” for them to ask the hard questions.

    One harsh reality is that other agents aren’t responsible for helping us build and maintain our client base no matter how “nice” we have been to them. This is a competitive business, but we get to choose the basis for competing.

  27. Karen Rice

    November 3, 2008 at 3:10 pm

    Dear Jaded Realtor: I don’t recall anyone saying anything about expecting other agents being responsible for helping us build our client base.

    They are, if they are REALTORS, bound by the Code of Ethics, however, which prohibits them from badmouthing their competition, which is the point of this blog.

    In my case, the customer simply brought it up on his own, I certainly didn’t fish for info. He wanted me to respond to an allegation that another agent made about me (that I couldn’t hold onto buyers.)

  28. Jaded Realtor

    November 4, 2008 at 4:50 pm

    Dear Karen,

    And I was not attributing or directing my point to you or anyone else — nor was I accusing you of fishing for information.

    My point, simply, is my personal practice with “badmouthing” is:

    1. Not to rely on the Code of Ethics to protect me from being badmouthed.

    2. Not to be overly concerned when it happens – there are many different possible reasons for it — and in some cases, it didn’t really happen.

    I also think the point of ANY blog is the discussion and sharing of ideas. The original post included the question “How do you respond?” There are many different options and alternatives.

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The problem with a self-policing industry: you have to be a narc

Ethics violations in the real estate industry can make or break a Realtor’s career, depending on the severity, so it would stand to reason that all would be mindful of the rules, but there are always individuals in the field that act as if the Code of Ethics is irrelevant.



An animated discussion on ethics training

“Does anyone else find it ironic that NAR – the trade association for Realtors – has to mandate that members take an ethics class every four years?” An agent who attended one of my company’s broker opens yesterday posed that question to the wine and cheese grazing attendees. Of course, that opened up an animated discussion on the value of etchics training and the lack of enforcement when the rules are violated.

One agent volunteered that the guy sitting next to her in her last ethics class played games on his cell phone and then cheated during the test at the end of the class. Seriously, dude? You cannot even pay attention long enough to pass what should be the easiest test you’ll ever have to take in your career? Perhaps he was just seeing how far he could push it by cheating during an ethics test, to see if anyone else around him caught the extreme irony there. None of the other agents around him – including the agent he cheated off – turned him in and the instructor didn’t notice.

This same agent later called one of my sellers and tried to convince him to break a listing contract with me, because he had a “guaranteed buyer” in the wings. The seller was an attorney, and this bozo tried to get me cut out of the deal, offering the seller a reduced fee to dump me. The seller held firm and directed the agent to call me, then the seller called to let me know about the conversation.

“But you know if you file something the other agent will know.”

It gets better. After the deal closed, I requested paperwork from our local Board of Realtors to file an ethics complaint. The person in charge said, “But you know if you file something the other agent will know.” Gee. Really? I asked her to send the paperwork over anyway.

I called the seller/attorney and asked him to repeat the conversation to me, because I was documenting it to file a complaint. He turned wishy washy on me at that point and his story changed from “The other agent tried to get me to dump you as the listing agent to cut you out” to “Well he really only asked a few questions and I told him to call you. He probably didn’t mean any harm by it.” So there goes my star witness, who doesn’t want to rock the boat.

I didn’t file the complaint. I resorted to the “turn the blind eye but never trust the sleazeball again” path. And that is what happens to almost all ethics issues I hear about / see in person.

That’s what happens when you have a self-policing group of “professionals” who would rather not “narc” on a fellow agent. After all you’re probably going to end up on the other side of a deal from this guy some day, right? The guy in my example has sold two of my houses since that run-in. Why tick him off by filing a complaint and going through all that hassle? If he stops bringing buyers to my properties then my sellers ultimately lose, right?

Boiling down the CoE

The NAR Code of Ethics takes up pages and pages of tiny print, and it runs each year in their trade magazine (I think it’s the January issue). Does anybody read that? Probably not many. I’d argue none of us ever should have to read it again. Simply follow this advice instead. The thousands of words in the Code boil down to one thing: Do unto other agents, and consumers, and clients, what you would have them do unto you. It’s the Golden Rule. Simple. Well, obviously not, for many agents and brokers.

The sad part is the agent in my example had no clue how close I was to filing that compaint, and if he did know he’d probably scratch his head and wonder why his actions were “wrong.” Making us take a one-day class every few years won’t “make” the unethical agents suddenly operate ethically. Most of them just don’t get it.

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Ethics hearings in private a disservice to consumers?



Fight Club and real estate

For those of you that saw the movie ‘Fight Club’ you’ll remember that Rule #1 is “You do not talk about fight club,” followed closely by Rule #2, “You DO NOT talk about fight club.” Which, believe it or not, brings me to today’s topic: The Real Estate Code of Ethics and Arbitration. Article 17 obligates Realtors to resolve fights disputes with another Realtor through arbitration (not litigation). Arbitration is conducted at the local board level, and I am not aware of a local board that doesn’t require arbitration to be confidential.

I respect that public internecine warfare amongst Realtors isn’t in the interest of our industry, and doesn’t belong in the public spotlight. I’m not here to advocate the collective airing of our dirty laundry. That said, I wonder if our collective agreement to keep our concerns confidential can inadvertently harm the consumer and ultimately makes all of us look a little shoddier?

To find the first arbitration guidelines created by NAR and distributed as a set of suggested rules for boards to follow, we have to travel all the way back in time to 1929. NAR’s first Code of Ethics & Arbitration Manual wasn’t created until 1973, and it credited a 1965 California Association of Realtors version as its model.

Appalling conduct

I can think of two instances in the past year where I was so appalled by the conduct of a fellow Realtor that I went to the trouble to inquire about how to lodge a Code of Ethics complaint with my local board. After weighing the time required to make a competent complaint and comparing it with the best case outcome (a closed-to-the-public hearing in which they were found to have violated the code of ethics), I decided not to pursue a complaint in both cases. My association’s bylaws (and probably yours) give it the power to discipline any member based on the results of a Code of Ethics hearing, “provided that the discipline imposed is consistent with the discipline authorized by the Professional Standards Committee of the National Association of REALTORS® as set forth in the Code of Ethics and Arbitration Manual of the National Association.”

“Sanctioning Guidelines” – (Appendix VII of Part 4 of the 2011 manual for the very curious), guides member boards to impose disciplinary consequences that are progressive and fair, taking all considerations into account. Sample first-time disciplinary actions include suggestions of a letter of warning, a fine (amounts range from $200 to $5,000 depending on the severity of the violation), and attendance at relevant education sessions. Not to sound defeatist, but a confidential letter of warning and a fine of around $200 doesn’t seem like an outcome worth investing much of my time in.

Practicing in the internet era

Given that we live and work in the internet era, and review sites like Yelp abound, it seems a bit odd to me that a local board might know of an agent with problem behavior that is documented yet choose to make that information unavailable to consumers. My understanding is that the results of a code of ethics hearing are confidential with disclosure authorized in a few situations, none of which deal with informing the public.

Many of my fellow colleagues feel that the best response to a bad agent is to be patient and give them enough time to work themselves out of business. I can respect and understand their hands-off approach. But what about the damage that individual does to our industry as a whole? While we whisper, warn in confidence and know amongst ourselves how awful they are, the public doesn’t get the benefit of our perspective. Deprived of it, they turn to consumer review sites like Yelp.

How do you think we, as an industry, can help consumers in their quest to find a trustworthy agent?

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Realtors, we really need to get over ourselves already



A letter from the child of a Realtor.

Real estate now vs. 1987

In Real Estate, some things are always changing, like financing, education, laws, rules and technology. The two that will always remain constant, as long as they are within the law, are following our clients’ directions, and working with their best interests in mind.  I’m not sure we always follow through with this, though.

Some of us knowingly take over priced listings.  Some of us take listings that are out of our area of expertise.  Some of us won’t show short sales or REOs.  Some of us won’t show homes with low co-op splits.  Some of us don’t have Supra/e-Keys, and miss out on those listings entirely.

Putting our interests first

When these things occur we are putting our own interests first, not our clients’.  We may think that by having as many listings as possible is a good thing, that’s what we’re taught after all, isn’t it?  It may not matter that some are overpriced, eventually, whether one month or four months down the line, the price will be reduced.  It’s just a matter of time and money, for our clients, after all.  The same can be said when we take listings outside our area of expertise, just to add on to our inventory.  If we don’t know what we’re doing, on a short sale listing, for example, it will only cost our clients a lot of time and money.  A lot.

By eliminating certain houses our clients see, that may already fit their criteria, we’re taking away their choices.  Distressed sales account for close to 40% of the market.  This is probably higher in some local markets.  There is no legitimate way to ignore roughly 1/3 of the homes being sold.  Co-op fees are often a touchy subject, especially when they are, not “enough.”  If everyone utilized a Buyer Broker Agreement that stipulated what their fee was, the issue would take care of itself.  Not being able to access listings with the use of Supra/e-Keys is a choice.   Choosing not purchase one will mean agents will not be able to access Fannie Mae (and eventually, probably additional Gov REO homes) along with the listings that are already using them.

Our priorities versus theirs

We totally need to get over ourselves already.  We are not bigger than our clients.  Our priorities are not more important than theirs when it comes to the actual listing and selling of homes.

Recently, my awesome parents dug through a few boxes and rounded up one of my first art projects. About 25 years ago I did the poster featured above about my Mom, and her Real Estate career.  It was for an Open House (no pun, honest!!!) for the elementary school where I attended first grade.  It was just, what she did according to me way back then.  Things are way more complicated now, than when I was six.  There’s a heck of a lot more paperwork for one.  But the same basic principle still applies.

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